Friday, March 11, 2011, 11:25 AM - Posted by AdministratorGreat article in the Journal News today about The Gizmo Guys. They will be performing at the Emelin this Sunday at 11 am and 1:30 pm. Don't miss it! Buy Tickets
Click here for the Journal News Article
The Gizmo Guys keep roomfuls of kids entranced
Take five red rubber balls, two funny guys and a roomful of squirming kids, and what have you got?
Heaven, according to Barrett Felker. Felker is one half of The Gizmo Guys, a high-energy family-friendly act that incorporates some eye-popping juggling with music and a dose of age-appropriate comedy.
What Felker and partner Allan Jacobs do with a few balls and a plethora of simple props, like devil sticks and paper boxes, keep roomfuls of kids, their parents, and even grandparents, entranced for an hour.
Interested? You can see them in action at the Emelin Theatre this weekend, where The Gizmo Guys will do two shows on Sunday.
If you're expecting razzle-dazzle, you'll definitely get it, but be warned, there are no elaborate sets, no cagey staging — just two guys and, occasionally, a chair or a table. But their sleights of hand are mesmerizing and the comedic timing between the partners, who have been juggling together since 1987, is priceless.
"Allan's funny, I am not funny," Felker says, who is the shorter one of the two. "He doesn't let me get a word in edgewise. I am the guy who does all the heavy lifting. I'm the straight man."
Just in case you're thinking juggling is limited, Felker says for any particular show, they're likely to come up with 60 or 70 moves. "From an aesthetic point of view, there's a huge vocabulary of moves," says Felker. "We'll do things and then stand back and say, 'what stands out here?' And then we will start weeding them out until we have the best 20 or 30 best things."
In one routine, an unsuspecting audience member is blindfolded while The Gizmo Guys blithely juggle wooden clubs back and forth in front of and in back of his head, trying to knock a straw out of his mouth. While the clubs whiz by, the guys keep up a calm. steady stream of patter until eventually, the straw is cleanly knocked free. In another, Jacobs steps in and assumes Felker's fast-moving stream of bouncing balls that hit the floor, pit, pit, pat and then get juggled into the air and back to the floor.
The Gizmo Guys have been all over, from television to international juggling competitions. They've taught at circus schools, too. One year, Felker thinks it was 1992, The Gizmo Guys did 400 shows. These days, they're down to about 150 a year, and that requires a lot of physical stamina, never mind the comedy chops. Yeah, turns out, jugglers are pretty awesome athletes, too.
"You need to take care of your body," Felker says. "There are a lot of injuries you need to avoid, such as repetitive stress injuries. So having a regular routine, and practicing all the time is necessary. You don't take two weeks off and think you can jump back in."
Both "Guys" started out as juggling hobbyists. "A cousin taught me, and Allan's college roommate taught him," says Felker. "It was a lot of trial and error; the basics with three balls. We'd say, if this is possible, then something else might be possible, and it went from there."
Felker, who started juggling at 15, was at the University of Arizona and undecided about his future. "There were a few things I wanted to do, but juggling was the most realistic. That's a little scary, right?" So he dropped out, moved to Boulder, Colo., and devoted his full attention to honing his skills. He ended up winning the International Jugglers Association's team championship. That led, believe it or not, to a solo gig with the Harlem Globetrotters. What started as an eight-week contract turned into a 3-year around-the-world tour.
In the meantime, Jacobs was studying psychology at the University of Massachusetts . But that's not what he wanted to do either, says Felker.
Even after 24 years, what you see is what you get. "We don't have that fourth wall between us and the audience," Felker says. "We're not actors, and we don't pretend to be people we are not. We're just ourselves—slightly exaggerated. Primarily, we are jugglers and that's pretty consistent on stage. We know who we are."
More importantly, they know where they are. Even a few misplaced steps can mean disaster for jugglers, but Felker says practice has made them nearly perfect. Still the world of juggling has changed; these days young performers perfect their moves with the help of computer programs.
"We'll go to these forums and you run into these young science kids with their laptops saying 'this is move 1457; check it out.' That's not how we learned."
In the end, that's what audiences love about The Gizmo Guys: along with virtuosic juggling, there's always an element of old-fashioned showmanship that delights even the biggest of kids.
"What we really try to do is put on a good family event," says Felker. "There are kids shows where the parents think 'ugh, I can't wait for this hour to be over.' And then there are kids shows that are over the kids heads. We are really trying to take everyone in, and I think we do a good job."